From digital wills to online memorials, psychologist Elaine Kasket on online life after death

From digital wills to online memorials, psychologist Elaine Kasket on online life after death

From digital wills to online memorials, psychologist Elaine Kasket on online life after death

Click here to view original web page at From digital wills to online memorials, psychologist Elaine Kasket on online life after death

Psychologist Elaine Kasket, author of All the Ghosts in the Machine: The Digital Afterlife of Your Personal Data
Psychologist Elaine Kasket, author of All the Ghosts in the Machine: The Digital Afterlife of Your Personal Data

There are 2.37 billion people who regularly log on to Facebook at least once a month to send messages and check out photos, yet in 50 years’ time there could be more dead people with profiles on the platform than living ones, according to research by the Oxford Internet Institute.

What happens to all the information we’ve created online when we kick the bucket? Who owns it and what can we do about it?

These questions psychologist Elaine Kasket is attempting to answer in her book, All The Ghosts In The Machine: The Digital Afterlife Of Your Personal Data. Released in paperback this week, it aims to help us understand our digital footprints and how we can take control of them before it’s too late.

What Kasket wants you to know, first, is that it’s not a book about death or grieving, it’s about understanding how we use tech and its impact. “What people need to realise is that because of the involvement and control of tech companies, there are a lot of issues around access, a lot of expectations, that are not met. We assume that digital stuff obeys the same law of ownership and control as physical stuff.”

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Kasket says her interest in digital death started when she was a teenage goth in the mid-Eighties as the internet was starting to gain traction. But it really took off when she joined Facebook in 2007. When 32 people died in the Virginia Tech shooting in the US that year, the platform decided to memorialise accounts instead of instantly deleting them, following criticisms from family and friends of those killed. “I was interested from a psychological perspective in how people were using the site and commenting on photos to speak directly to the deceased.”

Dealing with memorialisation online was something Twitter recently grappled with. Last November, the platform had to roll back plans to cull accounts that hadn’t been used in more than six months following a public outcry over what would happen to accounts of the deceased. The Twitter profile of former Guardian journalist and writer Deborah Orr is a particular sore point for her friends and followers — author Jojo Moyes tweeted to say it felt like she had been “erased” after the platform removed the account.

But for Kasket, this is part of the conundrum. “What kind of moral obligation does Twitter have? It’s considered a duty of care to preserve the data of dead users. Why? Isn’t that just another instance of us relying on technology to do the things that we should bear the responsibility for ourselves?”

What’s online isn’t forever, particularly when it comes to storing all this data in the cloud. It takes money and energy to keep servers going — we already know the environmental costs of bitcoin, with one study last year estimating that for every $1 generated in the cryptocurrency’s value in 2018, and climate damages in the US. Think of the energy being used to keep dead social media profiles alive. As the OII figures demonstrated, it’ll only get bigger.

Then there’s the issues of trying to shut down a social media account owned by someone who is no longer here. Passwords could be put away and only an authenticated fingerprint could unlock them. Kasket is particularly worried about the impact of deepfakes: videos edited using AI to modify someone’s speech. “If James Dean is going to be deepfaked into a film, then a citizen can be deepfaked into a bank account being drained when the system is not aware the person is dead.”

So what can we do about it? You can begin by making a digital will. Farewill, a digital will-writing specialist, raised £7.5 million in funding last year ( Make sure to include information such as: “I want my Facebook profile to be memorialised.” You can also nominate a digital executor who can remove or memorialise your accounts; Google and Facebook both offer these services, whilst Twitter says it’s “looking into” it.

Be wary of what you give access to. If you have digital skeletons, then maybe lock those accounts away instead of opening them up to future discoveries. Kasket also advises “going old-school” — the photos that you have stored on Facebook? Download them onto an external hard drive or print them. “It’s a fascinating conundrum that we’re dealing with,” says Kasket. “Once upon a time the dead had no rights to privacy or data protection but that’s before we left behind so much identifiable and personable data.”

Before you post that next Twitter musing on the headline of the day, maybe use that time to look into creating a digital will. After all, there’s no time like the present.

  • All the Ghosts In The Machine: The Digital Afterlife Of Your Personal Data by Dr Elaine Kasket is out now (£9.99, Robinson/Little Brown UK)

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Digital Life After Death

Digital Life After Death

Digital Life After Death

Click here to view original web page at Digital Life After Death

No one wants to think about their death, but it’s a fact of life. If you live a long life if it’s tragically cut short, at some point you will no longer be around.

Unlike previous generations, most people alive today will leave behind a digital legacy, mobile phone contacts and social media accounts to digital online photos.

Without proper planning, that legacy might end up causing more distress to your loved ones, with inaccessible social media pages, no control over comments being left, and possibly lost treasured memories.

Jump to…

The Data You Leave Behind

More and more of our life is being stored digitally; photos on our phones being backed up to cloud services and sorted into online digital albums, documents being stored online, address books and contact information in our phones and social media holding details of conversations with our friends and family.

While we’re alive and have full access to our memory and our devices, the security that is used to keep hackers out of these online services (mostly) does exactly what it is meant to. We can access the content freely and easily, others can not.

But what happens if you pass away or suffer a life changing incident that means you can’t access your data again? Do you want your loved ones struggling to get access to your online accounts when you can’t?

Data Law

The General Data Protection Regulation state that the GDPR only applies to you while you’re alive. Once you’ve died, personal information is no longer protected, and it’s up to each country to decide how that data should be treated.

This Regulation does not apply to the personal data of deceased persons. Member States may provide for rules regarding the processing of personal data of deceased personsGeneral Data Protection Regulation

The UK’s data law, the Data Protection Act 2018, does not make any provisions for data belonging to a deceased individual either.

Personal Information is any information relating to an identified or identifiable living individualData Protection Act 2018

It’s obviously not quite that clear cut. While your online photos will generally not affect other individuals privacy, granting access to a deceased person’s social media account means you are granting access to personal information of any contacts the deceased was connected to, and this could potentially breach the GDPR.

Until the UK Law deals with the issue of data ownership and access rights after death, it’s prudent to make your own provisions to ensure you have a say to what happens to your data after you die.

Where There’s A Will

You might not think about making a will, you might consider your assets and affairs don’t require one, but making a will and leaving an associated letter of wishes should be something you do regardless of your situation.

In your will you should include you wishes to grant various people access to your social media and other digital accounts (banking, cryptocurrency, household utilities etc) but leave the details of how to access the accounts in an associated Letter Of Wishes, this can be more easily updated if/when you change your logon credentials for example.

In the letter of wishes you can include details of the location of a secure password vault, and the means to access it. You can also put other various pieces of information; who should (and should not) be notified of your death, information on how you want your trustees to manage your estate, how you want guardians to bring up your children and so on.

Password Management Services


Keeping an online, up-to-date password vault means that you can pass on the login details for your accounts and services after you die or otherwise become unable to access them. It’s also the absolute best way to make sure every password you use is unique and very complex – you don’t need to remember them, the vault does that for you. We wrote a post on this here: Do you want to know more?

Using a service like LastPass is good for basic user account information, the data is stored on the LastPass servers. Another similar service is 1Password which stores your data in an online encrypted store.

KeePass is another password vault, but unlike LastPass and 1Password, you can store different types of information and add comprehensive notes and attachments. KeePass data is saved in a standalone database, so can be saved into various online and offline locations (you can use synchronisation plugins to keep them all up-to-date) The database is encrypted with a master key.

These services can be integrated into your browser and smartphone, meaning they can automatically fill in user credentials on websites and apps, a great way to make sure you use complex unique passwords for every service, and only have to remember one password!

Password Input

There are other password storage services, like the ones built into your browser or smartphone such as Chrome’s password manager that syncs across your google account. They all have their own storage solutions and uses, but are typically not as encompassing and manageable as dedicated third party services, or may not have the same level of security, putting your account passwords at risk.

Access To Your Accounts

You should leave enough information so that your know loved ones will be able to access your password vault.

If you’re using an online service like LastPass, they’ll need to know the name of the service and the logon information.

If you’re using an offline service like KeePass, they’ll need to know the name of the service, the location of the database file and the logon credentials for the database.

Don’t leave the credentials in plain text for obvious reasons, instead make the credentials sufficiently complex, but easy enough for your family to work it out. (and don’t forget to update the details if you later change them)

You can leave the access details in your Letter Of Wishes with your will, and/or on a memorialised system like the Google email service (see below) that will send a message automatically on your behalf.

So the clue you leave might be “username is my nickname then an underscore and the year we first met” (obviously make sure you get the year right for many reasons!) and for the password “Password format is 9999%AA99aaa%Axxxxx and is the last four digits of my mobile phone number, the email sign, my first car registration number (matching the case), the star sign and the first word from the title of my favourite film

This should be sufficient to allow your family to be able to find and access your password store, from there they can log into your accounts and carry out any additional wishes you may have made.

Memorialised Account

Quite a few online services have considered what should be done with your online digital data once you are no longer able to manage it yourself. Some will simply freeze the account and put restrictions in place, others allow you to pre-configure actions.

We particularly like the Gmail way of configuring an account that’s not logged into for so many days, particularly the email facility. Combined with an encrypted attachment, this could be a secure way of passing on your account credentials if you are no longer able to access the information.

Facebook have a facility to memorialise and account if the account holder passes away. This locks the account down but keeps it visible so friends can family can share memories to it.

It’s a good idea to add a legacy contact to your account, this is someone who can manage your account once it’s been memorialised. A legacy contact can put a pinned post on your memorialised profile page, manage and delete tribute posts, see posts that your account is tagged in, respond to friend requests and generally manage your account. They can see all your posts (even ones set to private) but won’t be able to read your facebook instant messages.

To add a legacy contact, go into your Facebook settings, click EDIT next to Memorialization Settings and then type in a friends name and click ADD. Here you can also set if your legacy contact can download a copy of your Facebook data once your account is memorialised, and request that Facebook delete your account rather than memorialise it.

A memorialised account has ‘Remembering…’ in front of the owners name. It can still be tagged in posts and photos, and content you created will remain on Facebook unless the account is deleted. If you were the admin of a page on Facebook, that page will be deleted once your account is memorialised.

Once an account is memorialised it can not be logged into, even if your family have your login details. If you have not appointed a legacy contact, your account will not be able to be changed in any way.

To notify Facebook that a user has passed away, and change the account to a memorialised one, a friend or family member needs to contact Facebook via the memorialisation request page and send a copy of the death certificate.

If you are an immediate family member, you can request the account be removed rather than memorialised. To do this you need to send Facebook proof of your relationship to the account owner.

People with Google accounts can use the Inactive Account (IAM) Manager to determine what should be done if they can no longer access their account. This needs to be setup in advance so Google knows what your wishes are.

If the IAM is not setup, immediate family members can submit a request to Google to close a deceased person’s account, obtain information from their account and request a return of any funds in their account.

Inactive Account Manager

The Inactive Account Manager can be configured to manage your Google data if you can’t log into your account.

You can access the Inactive Account Manager Here:

You can choose how long your account needs to be inactive (inactivity is determined by a combination of last sign-in, activity listed on your Google Activity log and logins from Gmail and Android) before the Inactive Account Manager takes over.

Once the Inactive Account Manager takes over, the first thing you can set it to do is send an email and text message to you to check you’re not available. If there is no response to these communications, the Inactive Account Manager will then carry out your instructions.

This can include an automated email from your gmail account. You can email upto 10 people and you can grant them access to various Google services, such as your photos store, contacts, Google Drive, Hangouts, Maps, My Business and so on (see the Google Dashboard below) Google allows you to add the recipient’s phone number for verification before they can access your data, and you can add a personal message which will be sent to the recipient.

This is a great opportunity to include the details of your password vault, but make sure you keep it up to date if you change the service, location or credentials.

You can also configure an automated reply if you use your Gmail account, informing anyone who emails you, that you are no longer using this account.

Finally you can instruct Google to delete your account and all your data after three months.

New legislation addresses inheritance of digital assets

Digital Life after Death – When it comes to your Will, have you thought about your Post Mortem Digital Assets?

Digital Life after Death – When it comes to your Will, have you thought about your Post Mortem Digital Assets?

Click here to view original web page at Digital Life after Death – When it comes to your Will, have you thought about your Post Mortem Digital Assets?

“It’s something that many of us avoid thinking about and that’s why 2016 Best Will Week (31st October 2016 – 4th November 2016) from is such a great idea. With so many solicitors around the country signed up to help the public prepare their wills and offer advice on possible charity legacy bequests, it’s a good time to make an appointment to get the job done. However, there’s something new for us to consider in 2016.

Regardless of age, we’re living online more than ever before. And that’s why we really need to think about what’s called our Digital Assets when preparing our will. Otherwise, living on digitally is a real prospect if not properly managed. The concern about a Digital Afterlife is one we’re hearing more and more about from clients at both our city centre and in Stillorgan office” That’s according to Eileen O’Gorman, apartner with long established Dublin law firms Gleeson, McGrath Baldwin (

In a digital world where your Facebook page may be memorialised and your music collection caught in a cloud, have you considered your digital assets? Exactly what are they, where they are located and who can access them once you depart this world?

Also, how much can you exercise control of your social media content from the grave? And where do you begin?

Eileen O’Gorman offers several practical pieces of advice:

  1. The starting point (as with all issues that affect your online activity) is to read the terms and conditions – especially those of your favourite social media platforms
  2. To ensure your digital legacy, convert digital assets to physical assets.
  3. Identify if you have the right to pass on these Digital Assets at all or are they likely to be as intangible as your post mortem spirit?

1. Terms and Conditions

Some providers have developed hands on management tools such as Googles plan for your digital life after death and Facebook’s memorialisation feature. Did you know that following a few simple steps you can appoint a legacy contact through this Facebook feature to give a trusted party the ability to select certain data for archive, memorialise or terminate your account?

Some accounts however will be automatically terminated as a result of inactive use and where this happens you need to consider if there is content you may want someone to have.

Whether you want to terminate your online existence on death or use a platform like LivesOn so that “When your heart stops beating you keep tweeting”, you need to consider these assets and the terms of service that govern their location and access to them.

Sites like DeadSocial provide a platform whereby messages can be created and saved for publication to your Facebook or Twitter profiles after death. LivesOn uses artificial intelligence algorithms to keep your tweets coming from beyond the grave. If you don’t want to maintain a ghostly presence on your social media you may think that all this will no longer concern you. But think again. But You may not want to actively provide post mortem social media content but your social media presence does not automatically terminate on death. To the contrary, many of your accounts and profiles may remain very much alive and subject to abuse in the absence of your or someone else’s custodianship.

2. To ensure your digital legacy, convert digital assets to physical assets.

This can be done by downloading items and content to a physical device, which can then be passed on. Just make sure it is not password protected and if it is that you’ve left the password also. We would never encourage downloading digital assets in breach of a licence for use. There is a handy feature on Facebook to download your Facebook content. I regularly update my iCloud content and download it onto a terabit external hard drive to ensure my photographs, videos and other mementos are available for my family and friends in the future.

There have been cases, mostly in sad and tragic circumstances where the next of Kin have sued for access to a deceased emails or social media content. While service providers face big data protection and privacy issues when presented with such requests they are also faced with a moral and ethical dilemma. You may not want the content of these accounts to be made available to any third party no matter the circumstances or you may wish to have an option to preserve your digital assets or indeed bequeath it.

3. But do you have the right to pass on these Digital Assets at all or are they as intangible as your post mortem spirit?

With regards to online digital assets it is important to understand whether death is dealt with in terms and conditions of use but it is equally important to consider whether items you pay money for or acquire are actually purchased or merely licenced for personal use. Certain digital books, music and other items are licensed for use only and there are several legal restrictions on the transferability of such licences. Therefore, passing on digital assets may not seem as easy as you think.

For example, if you buy a CD then you have a tangible physical asset that you can gift during your life or bequeath on death. You may buy a music download but this does not give you the same rights as you get by buying the CD (unless of course you take further steps, which may not be legal or within the terms of your licence for use). A download is generally the purchase of a licence to listen, read or watch and that licence will always come with restrictions against, rental, lending or sharing and in many circumstances the licence will terminate on death.

Your log in and passwords are personal to you, will not be freely divulged to a third party (even if you have bequeathed the content to which they apply) and in some terms of service sharing your login and password are a breach of the terms of use and will result in termination of the contract. Therefore, while many such digital assets will be lost in the cloud many are simply not freely available for your next of kin under terms of the licence.

Eileen O’Gorman added: “It’s predicted that by 2020 the average person be it a digital native or digital immigrant and will subscribe to about 200 online accounts. That’s why we advise clients to not forget the digital dimension and manage it effectively.”

Is AI The Key To Eternal Life?

Is AI The Key To Eternal Life?

Is AI The Key To Eternal Life?

Click here to view original web page at Is AI The Key To Eternal Life?

Life after death is a topic that has kept some of the greatest minds occupied for millennia. It’s something we tend to shy away from talking about, but unfortunately, death and grieving are inevitable realities of being human. With ground-breaking research happening in natural language processing and artificial intelligence, could technology hold the answer we’ve been looking for?

When you suffer loss, there is a longing to speak to the deceased again – and technology is making this possible. Death today comes with the uncanny nature of leaving behind a digital footprint, a legacy of social media posts, videos, pictures and text messages – what are the living meant to do with these? Feed them into an artificial neural network and create a chatbot version of the deceased, obviously.

These controversial projects are looking to how we can leverage deep learning to extend our lives by imitating an extension of life through a chatbot, or ‘greifbot’ – yes, you’re right this is very Black Mirror.

We’ve come a long way since ELIZA, Joseph Weizenbaum’s computer program from the mid-1960s that responded to questions like a psychotherapist by using predetermined phrases, simply repeating back the user’s questions in different formats to form an answer.


Advancements in artificial intelligence and natural language processing are allowing for more realistic and humanlike chatbot experiences. With a combination of greater computing power and enhanced deep learning algorithms, researchers have extended the layers of abstraction that can be processed by artificial neural networks. These networks are capable of allowing software to identify and understand and process patterns in data such as image, sound and text. For users of ‘griefbots’, not only does this allow for greater understanding of their commands into the application, but also the output through the ability to imitate someone’s personality through their digital legacy.

Earlier this year, Artificial Intelligence start-up Luka’s co-founder Eugenia Kuyda garnered much media attention as her project to bring a deceased friend back through chatbot technology came to fruition. Kuyda had been working on a chatbot function that worked to recommend restaurants at the time. After Roman’s death, she decided to use texts between them, and some donated by friends and family to construct a Roman chatbot for everyone to interact with. Most of the users couldn’t believe how like Roman this chatbot was in phrases, humour and even personality.

She is now focusing on Replika a chatbot program that will learn through user interaction exactly how to communicate like the user. The ultimate personal assistant which can help with daily tasks, but one day carry on where you leave off.

The memorial-bot journey

Whilst Replika learns from direct and personal interaction, there is an issue with using data from more public communication, like social media accounts. We present ourselves online through a filter, creating an avatar of who we want to be and not who we really are. This means that social data used in creating a posthumous chatbot would not reflect a true you. This can be said for text messages too, think about what you’re like with different people in your life; work and home, partner and parent and your different interactions and digital legacy may reveal personal traits you wouldn’t want to expose to everyone.

We may just be at the beginning of our memorial-bot journey, but with demand will come supply and we’re bound to see more start-ups focusing on similar products.

Would you want to your loved ones or yourself to live on in a chatbot?

Charlotte McKee is content & social media ninja at Big Cloud.